CURRENT and future issues in agriculture and the technology affecting the value and production of agriculture in WA were highlighted at The University of WA’s (UWA) industry forum last Thursday.
A total of 220 industry professionals attended the forum, including CSIRO Digiscape Future Science Platform leader Andrew Moore.
Dr Moore presented to the audience the idea of agricultural decision-making and the fourth industrial revolution.
“Humans have lived through three industrial revolutions so far,” Dr Moore said.
The first one starting in the late 1700s in cotton and textiles.
The second revolution was in the 1870s and was driven by steamships, railway lines and steel production.
The third industrial revolution was in the 1960s and was driven by computerisation and automation.
Dr Moore explained that each of the industrial revolutions affected agriculture in fundamental ways.
“We expect the fourth industrial revolution to be the confluence of a set of technologies, including the internet of things, big data, cheap sensors, 3D printing and new bio-technologies, such as gene editing,” he said.
“Those technologies together will transform not just production but the social and economic context within which production systems happen.”
Dr Moore said these technologies would result in greater levels of automation, including in the agricultural sector.
“Another change from the fourth industrial revolution will be the providers of goods and services who will be able to tailor those goods and services closer to the needs and desires of individuals,” he said.
“The last consequence will be all kinds of processes including social and economic, which will be able to introduce greater levels of connectivity between people.”
Dr Moore said social media was a classic example of how connectivity between people had risen.
“My thesis is that these changes will apply to agriculture, just as much as to every other part of the economy,” he said.
“The process with which people make decisions will be impacted simultaneously with these new technologies.”
The future possibilities for agriculture will be endless, with the use of sensor technologies which provide information closer to real time through satellite data feeds.
“Sensors mounted on a variety of different platforms are becoming available and the price is headed downward rapidly,” Dr Moore said.
“It will become perfectly feasible to instrument a farm with weather sensors and temperature sensors which will help us understand what is going on in the weather environment.
“Yield monitors are a good example, but they show where you have been, whereas new sensors recording data can tell you where you are going.”
Dr Moore said the technologies would also allow farmers to make smart decisions, both through artificial intelligence and more available data.
“We can teach a computer to find x and when it finds x it will spray with y,” he said.
“Technology is identifying the issue and making the decision for us and desktop analysis will help to measure the probability of outcomes.”
Research has shown the rise of automation may put some farm jobs at significant risk, including farm labourers/contractors and agricultural inspectors.
“If this is the future? Does this take farmers out of the equation? Surprisingly not,” Dr Moore said.
Although some agricultural positions may become less relevant to the farming operation, he said the farmer was least at risk.
“The decision-making processes, which make up farming, happen on all different types of levels and some of them are complex which makes them hard to automate,” he said.
Dr Moore said he was excited to see what the fourth industrial revolution could do for agriculture.